Recognizing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders (FASD) cover other terms such as fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND), partial fetal alcohol syndrome (PFAS), alcohol-related birth defects (ARBD) and fetal alcohol effects (FAE). People affected by can have brain damage; facial deformities; growth deficits; mental retardation; heart, lung and kidney defects; hyperactivity; attention and memory problems; poor coordination; behavioral problems; and learning disabilities.

There are many long-term effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The majority of children who have been followed into adulthood have problems leading independent lives. Many young adults who do not receive appropriate support are unable to maintain employment and relationships with family, friends and partners. Many have legal problems.

The fetal brain is particularly sensitive to alcohol during the period of rapid growth in the third trimester.

After exposure, the cerebral cortex exhibits abnormal patterns in the distribution of neurons and abnormal neurotransmission. The hippocampus and cerebellum have decreased cell numbers and altered neurochemical activity. The corpus callosum appears to be absent or poorly developed in many children, as shown by MRI testing. The size and volume of the cerebellum and basal ganglia are reduced.

The diagnosis of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is based on four criteria: prenatal alcohol exposure (confirmed or unconfirmed), growth retardation, facial characteristics and neurodevelopment problems.

The criteria for FAS include:

      Growth retardation
      Weight: < 10th percentile
    Length or height: < 10th percentile

Facial malformations:

  • Short palpebral fissues, abnormal philtrum, thin upper lip, hypoplastic midface
  • Neurodevelopment disorder (more than one may be identified, but not all conditions must be present)
  • Head circumference < 10th percentile
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Memory problems
  • Delayed development
  • Attachment concerns
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Hyperactivity
  • Neurosensory hearing loss
  • Problems with reasoning and judgment
  • Learning disabilities
  • Inability to appreciate consequences
  • Impaired visual/spatial skills